Even in Female Dominated Jobs, Some Men Still Maintain Advantages

Julie and Rebecca have cited important sociological analysis that documents the fact that net of hours worked, the gender wage gap remains such that men still outearn their female peers in the same occupations. One other piece of commonsense wisdom often cited to explain the wage gap is the argument that women select occupations that tend to be lower paying—teaching, nursing, and other positions that we tend to associate with women. According to this line of reasoning, women are more likely to self-select into the “feminized” positions within certain fields, which then contributes to gender inequality in the labor market.

 Research on the experiences of men and women in “feminized” jobs, however, has interesting implications for this argument. Conventional wisdom might assume that women might maintain an advantage in jobs where they are predominant. However, important research by Christine Williams, Jennifer Pierce, Michelle Budig, and others documents the existence of what Williams terms a glass escalator for men in female-dominated occupations. In other words, even in the jobs like nursing, teaching, social work, library science, paralegal work, and others where women are in the majority, some men still retain significant advantages. Both Pierce and Williams note that men in more male-dominated jobs are more likely to encourage the few men in female dominated positions to move into the male jobs that are better paying and have higher status. These authors also find that men in these jobs are likely to denigrate the “feminized” aspects of their work and, at times, the feminine characteristics they associate with their women colleagues. Additionally, Williams notes that women colleagues welcome and encourage men to join the ranks and often help them rise through the ranks into the supervisory positions that are considered more “appropriate” for men. And finally, these studies all note that increasing numbers of men in female dominated jobs help push the pay ceilings upward for all workers.

My own research on black men nurses complicates this picture somewhat by demonstrating that not all men in female-dominated jobs ride this glass escalator to higher status, higher paying positions in these industries. Black men nurses were much less likely to report the close ties to male doctors, support and encouragement from female colleagues, and favorable perceptions from patients that facilitated white men nurses’ occupational advancement. So while the glass escalator certainly benefits some men in female dominated jobs, it is undergirded by racial and gendered assumptions that work to the advantage of white male workers specifically.

This adds important context to the discussion of why the wage gap exists. Far from being a fabricated concept or something that only exists because women work fewer hours than men, a number of complicated contextual and social factors matter here. If the gender wage gap were due solely to women’s labor market choices, then we should not expect to see men maintain advantages in virtually every career field and occupational category. Yet sound sociological research indicates very clearly that gender inequality persists in a variety of different types of occupations, and that simplistic explanations like the number of hours worked and individual choice do not sufficiently explain why.


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